The call by the public for the government to make sanitary pads more accessible by reducing the cost and providing viable local production alternatives has received attention in the 2020 manifestos of the two main political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
A research document dubbed ‘The Citizen’s Manifesto on Social Protection Programmes and Policies,’ which provided public expectations of political parties ahead of the December 7 election indicated that menstruation among teenage girls was a major concern for many in deprived communities.
In a response to the concerns expressed, the NDC’s 2020 manifesto indicated that the party intends to revisit and scale up its intervention of providing free sanitary towels to needy and vulnerable females.
It’s the party’s expectation that the intervention would help to keep all girls in school throughout the academic calendar and also help improve on the health and general well-being of teenage girls from vulnerable backgrounds.
On the other hand, the NPP 2020 manifesto says while supporting the private sector to ramp up production locally, the party will eliminate import duty on sanitary pads to improve health outcomes, particularly for girls.
These promises reflect the aspiration of the public because teenage girls in rural and deprived parts of the country still face impediments that thwart their access to a good education and a general good life including menstruation.
However, other pressing concerns like being married young, forced to indulge in hazardous work or discriminated against simply because of their gender normally receive more attention while menstruation, which is still a taboo subject in some communities remains often underdiscussed.
According to UNICEF, one in 10 girls in Africa are believed to miss school during their periods.
As a result, they can fall behind with their class work and often drop out of school altogether.
In Nangodi last year, activists and teachers in the Upper East Region called on the Ministry of Education to consider in its budget the provision of free sanitary pads for schoolgirls from very poor homes who could not afford to purchase the commodity during their menstrual periods.
The stakeholders including teachers and students made the call at separate Mentorship for Adolescent Girls forums at Nabdam, Talensi, Bongo, Kassena-Nankana municipal, Bawku West and Builsa South districts of the region.
Pads not enough
Analysing the promises of the two parties in relation to the provision of sanitary pads, a social development expert, Mr Kojo Boohene Bampoe, in an interview said although most headlines focus on girls not attending school because they can’t afford sanitary pads, there was little evidence that pads alone will keep girls in school.
“There are stories that we heard from girls who received reusable pads, which show that providing products alone is not necessarily enough to improve school attendance,” he said.
Mr Bampoe, who has in the last five years led advocacy on improving girl child education across Africa noted that there were myriad reasons why girls may not attend school, despite having access to sanitary pads.
As a result, he said the government’s social protection policies must be more comprehensive to tackle all the obstacles that may prevent the total well being of teenage girls in deprived areas aside from the provision of pads.